Life Cycle Assessment


Life cycle assessment is a method for analyzing the “cradle-to-grave” environmental impacts of industrial systems. Most industrial processes start with the extraction from the earth of raw materials needed to make the product (cradle) and end when all materials are returned to the earth (grave). LCA evaluates each stage in the production, use and disposal of a product. LCA aims to facilitate the estimation of cumulative environmental impacts resulting from all stages in the product life cycle.  Thus, LCA is able to provide a comprehensive perspective on the environmental impacts of a product, process or service.

LCA is a systematic, phased approach, consisting of four main phases:

1. Goal and Scope - Definition and description of the product, process or service, aiming to establish the context in which the assessment is to be made and identify the boundaries and environmental effects to be reviewed.

2. Inventory Analysis - Identification and quantification of energy, water and materials usage and any resulting environmental releases (i.e., emissions to air, discharges to water, solid waste disposal).

3. Impact Assessment – Assessment of potential human and ecological impacts of energy, water, and material use and the environmental releases identified in the inventory analysis.

4. Interpretation – Evaluation of the results of the inventory analysis and impact assessment to select the preferred product, process or service with a clear understanding of the uncertainty and the assumptions used to generate the results.

Life cycle assessment is a very useful technique, which can be used to help manage and minimize unintended environmental impacts of a product, process or service.  When choosing between two or more alternatives, LCA can help decision-makers compare all major environmental impacts caused by products, processes, or services.  

LCAworks has extensive experience in applying the LCA approach as described here. Recent projects have included application of LCA approaches to biomass, bioenergy, biofuels (including both ethanol and biodiesel), and bioplastics. LCA can now be carried out in accordance with ISO standards (OSO 14000), to ensure consistency of approach. Where a very high standard of analysis is required, LCAs can be peer reviewed by a selected review panel of experts.  LCAworks has experience of managing such expert review processes, most recently for an LCA on bioplastics.